BC union women fight racism in fishing industry

Published by BC Labour Heritage Centre on

BC union women fight racism in fishing industry

In the summer of 1954, racist signs on the women’s washrooms at the Namu fish cannery divided the facilities between “Whites” and “Natives”. They had been there for years, but despite demands from both the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU) and the Native Brotherhood of BC (NBBC), management took no action.

In August, the workers did. In a joint meeting of first nations and white workers, the 154 members voted unanimously to do away with the signs and proceeded to do so. It was a small step in the long march to overcome racism and ethnic divisions in BC’s fishing industry. The women holding the signs are: Mary Hall (NBBC), Marylin Fredericksen (UFAWU), Kitty Carpenter (NBBC) and Mervene Beagle (UFAWU). With them is Bill Rigby, a long time UFAWU leader.

The boat in the photo is the Texada, a fish packer run by BC Packers, travelling between Namu and Bella Coola. UFAWU tendermen were on strike at the time. BC Packers got agreement from the striking tendermen to make a special trip so the Bella Coola women who had come to Namu to work could return home for the duration of the strike. The women brought with them the objectionable signs they had earlier removed from the cannery washrooms.

  • Prepared by Donna Sacuta, Executive Director, BC Labour Heritage Centre

With thanks to: Sean Griffin, David Yorke and Nick Carr.

Photo originally published in The Fisherman, September 7, 1954.